Interview: Seema Pahwa, Sadiya Siddiqui on new age art of storytelling with tele-theatre Koi Baat Chale
We chat with director Seema Pahwa and actor Sadiya Siddiqui from new tele theatre series Koi Baat Chale that highlights works of literary figures.
Literature and theatre is a wonderful combination to get introduced to the world of stories. They give us a ring-side view of the changing discourse of society and its people. Combining the power of theatre and written word, Zee Theatre has come up with a six episode tele-theatre series titled Koi Baat Chale, that will include works of literary stalwarts like Saadat Hasan Manto, fiction writer Munshi Premchand and writer Harishankar Parsai. Expect seasoned television and theatre actors to narrate the stories in a unique dramatic reading format that makes theatre and literature a part of pop culture.
The first two stories in the sixpart collection will have the famous Toba Tek Singh and Hatak by Manto (narrated by Manoj Pahwa and Sadiya Siddiqui, respectively). This will be followed by a reading of Manto’s Mammad Bhai which is about a Robin Hood-like character (narrated by Vineet Singh), Harishankar Parsai’s Ek Film Katha — a satire on Hindi cinema (narrated by Gopal Datt), and Premchand’s celebrated stories Idgah and Gulli Danda (narrated by Vivaan Shah and Vinay Pathak respectively). The series is directed by actor-director Seema Pahwa known for her stellar acting in Badhaai Do, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Raksha Bandhan and more. This is her sophomore directorial project after the critically acclaimed feature film, Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi. Sadiya Siddiqui is best known for TV show Balika Vadhu, film Ajji and more. We speak to Seema and Sadiya about this new project.
What made you interested in a show?
Seema Pahwa: Koi Baat Chale gave me an opportunity to bring theatre and literary trea - sures to people’s homes. I feel it is very important to inculcate interest in theatre and timeless stories and engage people into the richness of Indian literature. I am excited to bring dramatic readings of stories by Manto, Premchand and Harishankar Parsai to the audience. This format is truly very beautiful and unique.
Sadiya Siddiqui: Seema (Seema Pahwa) told me about this project and I found the format very intriguing, because even though you are reading from a book, the intensive rehearsals make you memorise the story so thoroughly that you can engage with the audience to express its subtle layers and nuances. I have always been interested in storytelling because it is a challenging concept that demands keeping the audience engrossed. I agreed to the project instantly, despite having a torn ligament and prescribed bed rest due to my medical condition.
Seema, you’re from a theatre background. Who have been your literary influences?
Seema Pahwa:I love Ismat Chughtai’s stories as they are very realistic. I admire Bhisham Sahni’s writing. Indian literature is vast and there are so many choices from Premchand, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, to Raghuvir Sahay and more. As someone who is deeply interested in Hindi and Urdu literature, I have read many authors and poets extensively, but my favourite continues to be Ismat Chughtai.
Could you tell us how you selected the six stories?
Seema Pahwa: I chose stories that evoke different moods, emotions and expressions. My priority was to select something that wasn’t just about one theme.
Sadiya, you will be narrating Manto’s Hatak.What was the impact of the story when you first heard it?
Sadiya Siddiqui: I am familiar with Manto’s work, but when I read this story for the first time, I was deeply moved. It was quite challenging to narrate it because it has a layered structure. To capture and portray all the complexities in this format as a detached narrator while also emoting was not easy. It was like playing many characters, but also having an overview of the story as an observer. I worked hard to get the balance right and I really enjoyed it.
Seema, tell us about the unique format of the show.
Seema Pahwa: It’s a tele theatre because we are not doing live theatre or shooting a film with cuts. We have stories unfolding on the screen and it is definitely going to be an unusual experience for the audience.
Sadiya, how did you prepare yourself for the narration?
Sadiya Siddiqui: Each and every story penned by Manto has a punch that makes it memorable. Then you have to work hard on the way you tell the story and engage the audience to take them with you in such a way that they don’t have to see a story visually in order to experience it. As a narrator, you should understand all the nuances of the story and the crux of it. Then, put it forth with complete honesty and conviction. That’s what I did.
How can we make literature a part of pop culture?
Seema Pahwa: I feel theatre must be taken to small towns and far flung regions to introduce the young to their own stories. The new generation is getting deeply enamoured with western popular culture. While that is nice, it is more important that they know their own literature first. I think literature needs to be brought alive on the big and small screen as on the stage. We are growing very distant from our core relationships, the essence of our culture and our stories. I feel, to have a sense of who we are, we must know our roots.
Sadiya Siddiqui: Storytelling is an interesting way to draw the younger generation to literature. Once they are on this path to discovery, they will come across stories that will resonate with them, stir their emotions and connect them to different aspects of life and human existence. This experience may even lead them to come across writers they had never read before. This will cultivate the culture of reading at a time when it has faded or has become limited to reading Instagram captions and WhatsApp messages. Reading is not something we should pursue just to kill time, but to enrich our lives and broaden our perspectives. Literature also refines our language and makes us more perceptive, empathetic and connected with the rest of the world. This depth, you will not find while scrolling through Whatsapp or Instagram. Start your reading from one era and then go on to another and you will begin to see humanity in all its complexity juxtaposed with the universality of human emotions and experiences. Our classic stories should be staged and filmed more often, or we can simply invite people home for storytelling evenings.
Koi Baat Chale is currently streaming on Tata Play Theatre and Tata Play Mobile app.